Tuesday, July 21, 2009

the juncture of youtube and selling out.

Back in the day selling out was easy. Nowadays selling out seems to actually be kind of hard to me. Let's expand.

I can't really tell if this blog post is mainly influenced by my own getting older, the world becoming flatter/more digital, or some combination between the two. But, seriously, I do think that, whereas when I was a kid in school, quote-unquote selling out was seen as a visceral crime, something to be punished in the most extreme manner possible, it's now something that is literally impossible to track, much less want to punish.

Specifics - I was moved to write about this when Hank Green published this video on YouTube and it led me to watch the embedded one below:

That video was cool, right? Nice animation, cool lyrics, great music, and a good little twist at the end. But here's the thing...the whole way that I got linked to this video was through John and Hank Green's VlogBrothers project where, apparently, they were suffering some criticisms of selling out.

Now, as I was previously saying (and as Alan Lastufka says in his video on lyrics), I'm not sure how to even take this anymore. I mean, the way in which Web 2.0 and the so-called new media are changing te landscape of how we interact is so complicated that it's hard to track these old ideas anymore. It used to be that a band would sign with a so-called indie label and that would be OK, but when they signed with a major label that was selling out. But...what's a minor label anymore? What's a major?

As a test case, let's look at the Shins: Was it selling out when the Shins licensed that song to McDonald's? How about when they let Garden State push their music so hard? Is it selling out for them to leave Sub Pop? (I mean, a label is a label is a label, right?) Or is it OK because they're leaving for an even smaller one? (Sub question: Is Sub Pop still truly an indie label?) I mean, all of these moves were designed to enable the band's music to reach a wider audience, right? And that certainly can't be a bad thing!

But what about when James Mercer kicks out two of the founding members? I mean, that's got to be selling out, right? Kind of...? I don't know! James still has the time and the wherewithal to do radical tracks for the Dark Night of the Soul project...and that's got to be worth something, right?

So...that doesn't clear anything up! What does it mean in the 21st century, when practically anyone can produce their own album (and this Taking Leave album is hardly the first to be produced by people who didn't even physically interact - see, for example, the Postal Service, right?) and consumerism can operate on an individual level to accuse those same people of selling out? Does that mean that if I write a book and get it published that I shouldn't mention on here that I want everyone to buy it? I mean, really? Are we that scared? Does the mere presence of money or a product mean that things have this shady value?

Obviously, I think not. I think it's awesome that we've moved away from multi-national companies essentially enslaving people in order to get their music out. I think it's rad that people can put their own stuff out. And I think that, if we expect art to continue to be made, we need to make a real effort to support those people whose art we truly value.

The concept of selling out, I think, has lost a lot of its threatening meaning in this new world where we can feel much closer, on a personal level, to those people whose art we're looking at, listening to, reading, etc.


Travis said...

I think "selling out" is an idiotic idea. I remember when the song "Seeing Red" by Unwritten Law came out. Before that I had all of these friends that thought that they were awesome, but as soon as the song became popular they hated them. The irony: they were the ones that spread the word of this band, thus adding to their popularity. But as soon as they hit it big they became sell-outs. Also, in Things White People Love or whatever it is called, they mention that white people love obscure bands. The more obscure, the better. And if another person has heard of your obscure band, you lose the game... So, please, sir, stop mentioning things that other people have heard of... that makes you lame.

Michael said...

Trav - Couldn't agree more. I think selling out is a hard thing to talk about, esp. nowadays, specifically because it's such a nebulous term. I remember loving Radiohead as a kid, but kind of resenting all the attention that OK Computer got. Now that I look back at that I'm like, "Why?" That was stupid.